There’s a quote about the need to let go of a book once you’ve written it. I’ve looked it up and it seems to be attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci: “art is never finished, only abandoned,” he said. This quote is so true for writers. As one might tinker with a painting for hours – adding a bit more texture here, a few more highlights there – a writer will never be one hundred happy with his/her work and will always have the temptation of re-writing this paragraph or editing that chapter.
It is a temptation that we must resist and it’s something I’ve been finding hard recently. Not because I’ve written something bad, or need to correct mistakes, but because the book is still in my head. I’m still thinking about it, even though I’ve written the end.
I’ve been working on another project and now that it’s done, I should feel that it is finished. I’ve read through it several times, made corrections, re-written bits, changed other bits after suggestions from a friend, had a proof reader go through it. And still it is in my thoughts. Because I’m still getting emails about book covers and reviews and all this sort of stuff and it keeps dragging me back to the project which, really, I should have abandoned a month ago.
Even Mind Secrets, my novel which I wrote before that, continues to play in my mind. I’ve recently done a publicity tour for that and I’ve been telling people about the tour, checking on websites to see if anyone has left any comments I need to answer, and so on. I’m also serialising the novel in audio form on this website and so I keep listening to myself reading bits of it. Plus, with each instalment, I give a brief rundown of the story so far, so I need to pick up the book, skim read a chapter and write that up in the weekly podcast blog.
This sort of stuff can drive you crazy because you always spot something you would like to change. Like cleaning your car, putting away all your cleaning gear, coming inside, then looking out at the driveway and realising you’ve missed a bit.
The point is, no matter how hard you try or how gifted you are, your novel – or your art in Leonardo’s case – will never be perfect. For Mind Secrets, I remember, one of the first editors who read it didn’t really like the ending. And yet, I’ve since had reviews from people who really loved the way it ends. What’s the perfect last chapter in that scenario? For the reviewers, it’s the one I had written; for the editor, it’s one I hadn’t. The appreciation of art is subjective and no amount of tinkering will turn it into something everyone will like.
(It should also be said that over working a project can actually make it worse. Constantly re-writing a novel can remove the creative spark and the excitement which spurred the writer to write the story in the first place. Although this is perhaps the subject of a separate article).
My problem recently has not so much been the temptation to tinker, but the lingering of the book in my mind. I have other projects on the go and they need my full attention, and yet my past works still buzz in my head. What I need to do is listen a little bit to Leonardo and remember that my job is to abandon my art, no matter how close I feel to it, so I can move on. Like the parent waving their child off to university, my work is done and it’s now time for my offspring to live their own lives.